BBS > UK Bryodiversity > Pembrokeshire   
     

A tour of the bryophyte habitats of Pembrokeshire (v.-c. 45)

...with Peter Rhind

Altogether a total of 467 species have been recorded including 343 mosses and 124 liverworts.  Within the UK,  4 of the species are considered to be nationally rare and 55 nationally scarce.  Seven species are listed in the British Red Data Book, 10 are listed in the Europen Red Data Book and 10 are classed as "key" species for biodiversity in the U.K. Within a European context, 2 species, Drepanocladus vernicosus and Petalophyllum ralfsii, are considered to be particularly endangered,  both of which are  now protected under European law. The  flora also includes 1 species  (Fissidens celticus) endemic to Britain and 16 species endemic to European.

 

Introduction

Vice County 45 (Pembrokeshire) is largely rural in character with with about 83% (132,121 ha) of its 159,000 ha devoted to agriculture. Much of this, about 61% (80,455 ha), is permanent grassland, and arable land accounts for a further 27% (36,001 ha)  (Dyfed County Planning Department, 1989; Welsh Office, 1995). According to Brown (1960) much of the landform can be classified as coastal plain, with a small area of hills but no mountains. However, this belies its geological complexity which spans much of the early and middle eras of geological time, and includes Pre-Cambrian, Cambrian, Devonian, Carboniferous, Ordovician and Silurian rock formations.  The county forms the most westerly extremity of Wales with a climate described as hyperoceanic (Bendelow & Hartnup, 1980). Pembrokeshire is therefore well-suited for many bryophytes of Atlantic distribution in Europe. It lies within the region described as the Southern Atlantic biogeographical zone (Ratcliffe, 1968), and,  according to Ratcliffe's bryogeographical account of Atlantic species in Britain, bryophytes indicative of this zone in Pembrokeshire include Cryphaea lamyana, Fissidens celticus, F. monguillonii, Orthotrichum rivulare, O.sprucei, Cololejeunea minutissima, Fossombronia angulosa, Jubula hutchinsiae, Marchinsinia mackaii and Porella pinnata

Despite extensive agriculture, Pembrokeshire still supports a wealth of natural and semi-natural habitats. The following provides a brief synopsis of the major National Vegetation Classification (NVC) vegetation types occurring in Pembrokeshire (Rodwell, 1991,92,95).

 

Woodland

Unfortunately much of the county's former woodland has been lost.  It is estimated that only about 8,359 ha of ancient and secondary woodland in stands exceeding 2 ha (ca. 5.3% of the area) remain (Lister & Whitbread, 1988). Nevertheless, several of the remaining woodlands, including Tycanol Wood (National Nature Reserve) and Pencelly Forest (National Nature Reserve), represent outstanding examples of western oceanic woodlands.  Their high humidity and narrow temperature fluctuation provide ideal conditions for many bryophytes (Hodgetts, 1993). Particularly rich in bryophytes are the Atlantic oak woodland communities described as Quercus petraea -Betula pubescens - Dicranum majus (W17) and Quercus petraea - Betula pubescens - Oxalis acetosella (W11) communities in the National Vegetation Classification (Rodwell, 1991a). Woodland on more base-rich soils over Carboniferous Limestone in the south of the county are mainly composed of the Fraxinus excelsior - Acer campestre - Mercurialis perennis (W8) woodland community. Trevallen Wood on the Stackpole National Nature Reserve is a good example (Cook & Saunders, 1989). These provide for a number of shade-loving calcicoles. including, Cirriphyllum piliferum, Euryhynchium striatum, Euryhynchium swartzii and Plagiomnium affine.  Woodland clothing the often exposed seacliff slopes, such as Pennar Cants and Lawrenny Wood, represent some of the most westerly woodland in the UK. They vary according to degree of exposure, but they are usually composed of stunted oaks with a ground flora often dominated by Luzula sylvatica. The majority appear to be dominated  by the Quercus robur - Pteridium aquilinum - Rubus fructicosus (W10) woodland community (Cook & Saunders, 1989). These woodlands are often rich in bryophytes including a number of species, such as Bartramia pomiformis and Hookeria lucens.

 

Coastal cliffs

Much of the coastline occurs within the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park and includes a range of coastal habitats. The vegetation along the coastal strip at Strumble Head is composed mainly of  Festuca rubra - Armeria maritima (MC8) maritime grassland (Cooper, 1988a), but various other maritime cliff communities have been recorded (Prosser & Wallace, 1996), the most exposed of which is the Crithmum maritimum - Spergularia rupicola (MC1) rock crevice community.  This community is exposed to large amounts of salt-spray and so the bryophyte component is normally composed only of the salt tolerant T.flavovirens and C. purpureus. However, a greater diversity of bryophytes can be found in the adjacent maritime grasslands. In contrast to the northern coast,  large stretches of the sea cliffs on the southern coast are composed of Carboniferous Limestone. Around the Stackpole area,  the Festuca rubra - Plantago spp (MC10) community and Festuca rubra - Daucus carota (MC11) community represent the most important cliff-top vegetation types (Cooper, 1988b). These limestone cliff-tops also provide habitat for the locally rare  Pottia bryoides, whilst the adjacent calcareous grasslands and rocky outcrops include the  uncommon species Bryum torquescens and Gymnostomum calcareum.  These cliffs have recently received international recognition as part of a proposed Special Area of Conservation under the EC Habitats and Species Directive

 

Sand dunes

Pembrokeshire includes a number of outstanding sand dune systems such as Broomhill, Brownslade and Linney burrows, and Stackpole Warren.  Dargie (1995) lists eleven dune systems for Pembrokeshire with a total area of about 818 ha.  The vegetation is dominates by  Ammophila arenaria - Festuca rubra (SD7) semi-fixed dune community, and the Festuca rubra - Galium verum (SD8) fixed dune community. Uncommon species of these dry sandy areas include Pleurochaete squarrosa, Barbula acuta, Bryum pallescens, B. canariense and Tortella inclinata. However, by far the most bryologically rich areas of sand dunes are dune slacks, which, unfortunately, are not well represented in Pembrokeshire. According to Dargie (1995) the total area of dune slack in the county is less than 3ha (ca.2.4ha), most of which is concentrated at Broomhill, Kilpaison and Brownslade burrows. Furthermore, apart from tiny areas of the Salix repens - Campylium stellatum (SD14) dune slack community at Whitesands Bay and small areas of Salix repens - Calliergon cuspidatum (SD15) dune slack community at Stackpole Warren and Broomhill Burrows,  the bryologically rich dune slack communities are absent. Most of the slacks have been classified as either Salix repens - Holcus lanatus (SD16) slack or Potentilla anserina - Carex nigra (SD17) slack.  Nevertheless, the conservation importance of Pembrokeshire's dune slacks belies their size since they provide habitat for the internationally rare liverwort, Petalophyllum ralfsii, and other uncommon dune slack species including  Brachythecium mildeanum, Bryum dunense, Campylium polygamum, Drepanocladus lycopodioides and Drepanocladus sendtneri,  but so far none of the rarer (Red Data Book) dune slack Bryum spp have been recorded. For further details of sand dune NVC communities see Rodwell in-prep.

 

Saltmarsh

Saltmarsh is a comparatively rare habitat in Pembrokeshire.  The total area is about 396 ha with most of it restricted to Milford Haven and the Eastern and Western Cleddau river systems (Burd, 1989). The Spartina anglica (SM6) saltmarsh community represents by far the most important saltmarsh vegetation type, occupying about 198 ha. Other common communities include the Puccinellia maritima (SM13) and the Festuca rubra (SM16) saltmarsh communities, and there are large stands of the Phragmites australis (S4) upper marsh swamp community (Burd, 1989; Rhind, 1995).  For details of the NVC communities see Rodwell (in press) and Rodwell (1995).  Only one bryophyte, Pottia heimii, recorded on saline mud at West Williamston, is known to be truly halophytic, but other species such as Eurhynchium praelongum and Amblystegium serpens commonly occur in the upper saltmarsh transition zones.

Coastal heathlands

In addition to the large areas of heathland in the Preseli Mountains, there are also extensive stands of both dry and wet heath on the coastal plain. The Calluna vulgaris - Ulex gallii dry heath (H8) and the two wet heath communities, Scirpus cespitosus - Erica tetralix (M15)  and Erica tetralix - Sphagnum compactum (M16) form major components, but in addition there are also important stands of the Calluna vulgaris - Scilla verna (H7) coastal heath (Cooper,1988a; Blackstock, et al.1988; Prosser & Wallace, 1996,97), especially on Ramsey Island and in the area around St David's Head.

 

Aquatic habitats

Truly aquatic bryophytes tolerant of prolonged submergence in rivers and streams are comparitively few in number. Fast flowing mountain streams with rocky beds and boulders tend to be the richest aquatic habitats for bryophytes. Watson (1919) divided these into four main community types:

  • 1.  A constantly submerged, stream bed community, which commonly included species such as Cinclidotus fontinaloides, Racomitrium aciculare, Fontinalis antipyretica and Hyocomium armoricum depending on the acidity of the water.
  • 2.  A frequently submerged and constantly moist (through splashes or spray) community which commonly included species such as Conocephalum  conicum, Lunularia cruciata, Bryum pseudotriquetrum and Schistidium apocarpum.
  • 3. An occasionally submerged and often wet community which commonly  included species such as Thuidium tamariscinum, Dicranella heteromalla, Amblystegium serpens and Lophocolea bidentata.
  • 4. A community of plants growing in or near waterfalls, which commonly  included species such as Pellia epiphylla, Blindia acuta, Brachythecium rivulare and Hygrohypnum ochraceum.

However, these aquatic communities include a number of other species and many of them are common to all four community types.

Less common aquatic and semi-aquatic species recorded in Pembrokeshire include the nationally scarce Octodiceras fontanum recorded on a submerged concrete embankment of the Western Cleddau (Hill, 1984b) and the nationally rare Cryphaea lamyana found on tree boles in the flood plain of the Afon Teifi (Orange,1993). The county also includes a number of rare semi-aquatic species of Fissidens, including F. celticus, F. limbatus, F. monguillonii and F. rufulus.  In fact, there is  a  wide range of species that grow on banks and rocks close to rivers and steams.  Jubula hutchinsiae, for example, is one of the less common liverworts that occupies this nich. Lakes and ponds provide habitat for another group of specialist species. A free-floating existance sometimes displayed by Riccia fluitans in eutrophic ponds is unusual. Most of these semi-aquatic species tend to occupy the marginal zones. Drepanocladus species, including D. aduncus, D. exannulatus, D. fluitans and D. revolvens are typical of a range of wet habitats,  including dune slacks, fens, mire pools and  mountain flushes.

 

Uplands

Mynydd Preselli and Carningli Common are the only upland areas of any size in the county with much of the area lying within the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park.  The vegetation was described by Burn (1986) and recently interpreted in terms of NVC by Marcus Yeo of the Countryside Council for Wales.  The area has recently received international recognition as a proposed Special Area of Conservation under the EC Habitats and Species Directive. It is particularly important for its oceanic dry heaths which are composed mainly  of Calluna vulgaris - Ulex gallii (H8) heath (ca 555 ha), Calluna vulgaris - Vaccinium myrtillus (H12) heath (ca 602 ha), and Vaccinium myrtillus - Descampsia flexuosa (H18) heath (ca 345 ha). These provide habitat for a large variety of calcifugous bryophytes. There are also large areas of wet heath (ca 585 ha) including both Scirpus cespitosus - Erica tetralix (M15) wet heath and Erica tetralix - Sphagnum compactum (M16) wet heath which provide ideal conditions for many Sphagnum species (for details of the NVC communities see Rodwell, 1991b)

Areas of impeded drainage also include several important mire communities. Particularly important amongst these are the Carex echinata - Sphagnum recurvum/auriculatum mire (M6) and Narthecium ossifragum - Sphagnum papillosum mire (M21) with areas of aproximately 240ha and 77 ha, respectively.  Common bryophyte species include Aulacomnium palustre, Sphagnum subnitens, S. tenellum, S. papillosum, S. subsecundum, Breutelia chrysocoma, Campylopus atrovirens and Scorpidium scorpioides. Closely allied to the mires are many flushes in the area, and some of the less acidic of these providing habitat for the internationally endangered Drepanocladus vernicosus. Other more common flush species include Cratoneuron commutatum, Drepanocladus exannulatus and Philonotis fontana.

Finally,  the upland areas also include large stands of  acid grassland which tend to be dominated by mat grass (Nardus stricta). The most common vegetation type is the Nardus stricta - Galium saxatile (U5) grassland community with approximately 358ha.  The remainder is composed mainly of Festuca ovina - Agrostis capillaris - Galium saxatile (U4) grassland (ca 159ha) and Juncus squarrosus - Festuca ovina (U6) grassland (ca  40ha). Typical bryophytes include Pleurozium schreberi, Rhytidiadelphus loreus and Campylopus flexuosus.  For details of heathland and grassland NVC communities see Rodwell (1991b & 1992).

 

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